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The WSJ’s Sam Walker on the 7 core qualities of true leaders

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What do the greatest leaders of all time have in common? You may think it comes down to a certain sense of charisma or some inhuman level of talent – because that’s what we’ve all been conditioned to think defines a leader. But superstars aren’t the same thing as super leaders. In fact, the greatest leaders often fly under the radar and are actually easy to miss.

In this episode of the Tony Robbins Podcast, you’ll be hearing from renowned leadership expert and bestselling author, Sam Walker.

A former reporter, sports columnist and sports editor, Sam founded The Wall Street Journal’s prizewinning daily sports coverage. And most recently, helped launch the Journal’s leadership column. He is the author of Fantasyland, a bestselling account of his time in Tout Wars, America’s top fantasy-baseball expert competition (of which he is a two-time champion). And in his latest book – The Captain Class – Sam profiles the greatest teams in history and identifies the secret sauce that drove these unconventional men and women to achieve massive success.  

Sam and our host, Ana Yoerg, do a deep dive into the behavioral and psychological traits of these individuals and how they have been the driving force behind some of the most legendary teams in history. They discuss the myths about leadership – and how to really identify and cultivate the leaders you see in your own organization. Because it isn’t always obvious. In fact, it rarely is. And as Sam reveals, once you do find these individuals, you need to understand how to effectively partner with them so that they assume a more autonomous role that can ultimately lead the entire team to success.

Sam Walker Interview

Sam Walker Interview Show Notes

[01:14] Episode introduction
[02:58] Welcome Sam
[03:10] How Sam decided to write Captain Class
[03:40] Spending a lot of time with great teams
[03:50] “What makes this team so great?”
[04:30] Once you become great – how do you stay that way?
[05:20] How the Hungarian soccer team became one of the all-time greatest
[06:00] The end of the Hungarian reign
[08:30] What makes a team more powerful than the sum of its parts?
[09:40] The key component of the Hungarian soccer team – the captain
[10:40] How juggling was a non-verbal cue to the team
[11:20] The psychological component of the game
[11:40] The importance of internal leadership
[12:00] Misperceptions of what a leader really is
[13:25] It wasn’t Messi – it was Carlos Puyol
[13:55] Why Pele was never the captain of the Brazilian team
[14:20] Captains are different than the super stars
[15:20] We think that a great leader has to be obvious
[15:40] Great leaders are better off if they’re in the shadows
[16:40] The importance of a good defense
[17:00] Bill Russell of the Celtics – the big picture view of what’s good for the team
[17:20] How to find your leaders in business
[17:40] Many businesses are getting rid of middle management – but is that a mistake?
[18:15] Leadership isn’t as important during growth
[18:40] When things go wrong – what star talent does
[19:05] True leaders care about the collective
[19:40] Entering a partnership with these leaders
[19:50] Bill Russell and the Celtics
[22:00] Great leaders are “like the verb in a sentence”
[23:20] Carla Overbeck
[25:00] The singular focus of achieving the outcome
[26:30] Every failure is a challenge to do better
[27:30] The key to sustenance
[27:50] Richard Hackman’s theories of functional leadership
[29:20] Matchers and mismatchers
[30:00] Captains that went against the grain
[30:20] The Soviet ice hockey team
[33:30] Task conflict
[27:10] The greatest Olympic team of all time – the Cuban women’s VB team
[38:30] The Atlanta Olympics of 1996
[42:30] Hostile aggression vs. pushing the boundaries
[43:50] Consider the underlying intentions
[45:10] “The Game Frame”
[45:50] Roy Keane
[46:40] Steve Jobs
[48:00] 7 traits of elite captains
[49:10] Javier Fernandez of Spain
[53:00] Does the leader really always give a speech?
[54:10] Tim Duncan
[57:10] MIT study about communication patterns
[57:50] The charismatic connector
[59:00] Using credibility to turn the team into a talkative place
[59:30] Work on your one-on-one communication
[1:00:10] Onion articles about Tim Duncan
[1:01:20] Understanding what leadership means
[1:01:50] You have to earn the role of a captain
[1:02:40] How Carla Overbeck earned her credibility
[1:04:40] Identifying the next generation of leaders
[1:06:00] Why personalities are ultimately irrelevant
[1:07:00] Great leaders may actually be the most boring on paper
[1:08:20] The sneaky praise test
[1:10:50] The biggest surprise Sam encountered
[1:11:20] The great coaches and their partnerships with the captains
[1:14:00] Alex Ferguson of Manchester United
[1:16:40] The Alpha-Betas
[1:17:10] The mistake most managers make
[1:17:30] Dealing with salary issues
[1:20:00] How to cultivate a leader
[1:22:00] Leaders assume responsibility for everyone
[1:25:20] The great unknown is leadership
[1:26:30] The Captain Class
[1:27:40] Find more of Sam’s work at WSJ


The Belichick-Brady Dynamic – The unique partnership between this legendary duo is a testament to the importance of finding your second in command if you not only want to succeed, but to sustain that massive success.

Who should you hire first? – Learn the fundamental strategies and tactics to hiring the right candidates that will enhance and empower your team and your business.

What kind of leader are you? – By understanding your leadership style, you will have more awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, and be better equipped to leverage your talents and find the best way of communicating with others.

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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